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Archive for Friday, December 3, 2004

District to close school

Decision saddens Alternative students, staff

December 3, 2004

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The Lawrence Alternative High School will be closed at the end of the school year, officials have announced.

After 30 years, the program no longer will be housed in its own facility, 2600 W. 26th St. Next school year, all the students, along with parts of the program, will be integrated into Free State and Lawrence high schools.

Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said he decided to make the changes based on costs, student performance and two years of study.

"This decision was made based on research and facts and what we think will be best for the kids," said Weseman, who began his career teaching at the alternative high school. "This program may have worked in the past. But it isn't working for us now, and we have to address the problem."

While Weseman brought up the change at the Nov. 22 school board meeting, letters were sent to parents this week explaining the decision, as well as e-mails to district staff.

The decision has left the 79 students in the program rattled and caused concern among the school's staff.

The program generally has about 120 students, who are referred to the program through a counselor and administrators. Students at the school are there for a variety of reasons. Some fell behind in class work because of illness. Others had truancy issues. And for some, the regular classroom setting just wasn't a good fit.

"I'm saddened by this change," said teacher Laura Porter. "I'm worried that this change is going to happen and that there won't be enough support in place to get these kids through, especially during the transition."

Students interviewed said they thought the decision was a bad one.

Lawrence Alternative High School senior Becky Wehner, 18, works on
an art project for this year's art show. LAHS will close, and its
students will be integrated into the two Lawrence public high
schools next year. Supt. Randy Weseman said the LAHS program was
not working.

Lawrence Alternative High School senior Becky Wehner, 18, works on an art project for this year's art show. LAHS will close, and its students will be integrated into the two Lawrence public high schools next year. Supt. Randy Weseman said the LAHS program was not working.

"It's just really disappointing to see this," said Nick Clowers, 18. "I don't think any of us see this as being a good idea."

Weseman said he understood people being upset. But he said the district wasn't getting good enough assessment results from students to justify the $750,000 annual cost of keeping the school.

Fewer than 10 percent of the students in the program were reaching levels needed on state math and reading assessments, he said.

"We have a good staff working there," Weseman said. "This isn't about them. This is about the program, and this is about making sure we give students the tools they need to succeed."

He said integrating the alternative program into LHS and FSHS would allow its students access to a gym, better library and more learning opportunities. At the same time, students not currently in the alternative high school program could receive additional support they need to succeed.

"We know that there are kids who aren't doing well in the main high schools who could really benefit from this," said school board president Leni Salkind.







Evolved discussion

Weseman said that while he could shut down the program without a vote by the board, he wouldn't tell members they couldn't.

But the four board members interviewed Thursday said they didn't think a vote was necessary.

"I'm comfortable with the decision," said board member Rich Minder. "The superintendent and the other people in administration are the experts in education. We rely on them to make decision in programming. Those of us on the school board, we're not all experts in educational programming."

Board members Cindy Yulich, Austin Turney and Salkind agreed. Board members Sue Morgan, Leonard Ortiz and Linda Robinson weren't readily available for comment.

Turney noted closing LAHS was one of the biggest program changes he had seen during his time on the school board.

Lawrence Alternative High School senior Rachel Moore, 17, left,
talks with social studies instructor Kim Grinnell, who's been at
the school for nine years, and senior Kicki Metz, 17.

Lawrence Alternative High School senior Rachel Moore, 17, left, talks with social studies instructor Kim Grinnell, who's been at the school for nine years, and senior Kicki Metz, 17.

"This is not a decision of the board," he said. "It's a decision of the superintendent and his staff. But since this is a relatively significant change, I am sure the board will observe it closely."

Weseman spoke with board members individually about his plan to change the design of the alternative high school program.

Board members started fielding questions about the alternative program when Weseman mentioned at the Nov. 22 board meeting that he intended to end the program as it currently exists.

Salkind said she fully supported Weseman's decision.

"I think it's going to be a very positive change, and until people can see it, they may be leery of it," she said. "But I really believe that we will see the change and it will be beneficial to the students."

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Yulich agreed. She said while the alternative high school program hadn't always been at the center of discussions, school board members had talked a lot about learning communities and making sure children learn.

"I see this as part of that commitment," she said.

The plan

Details on how programs will be set up at the two main high schools are being worked on by the principals at FSHS and LHS along with other school staff members.

A presentation about the revamped alternative program will be made to the board in the spring, Weseman said.

The plan at this time includes:

  • Expanding in 2005-2006 the Lawrence Virtual School to provide online schooling for high school students. Currently the virtual school is for students in kindergarten through eighth grade,
  • Incorporating resources available through the LAHS program into the two high schools.
  • Exploring expansion of the Lawrence Diploma-Completion Program to provide services for students who need additional credits to graduate.
  • Allocating additional support to Lawrence and Free State high schools as staff develop programs to improve student achievement.

Weseman said all staff members with the program will be reassigned to Free State or Lawrence high schools.

What will happen to the portables and the building that houses the alternative school hasn't been determined.

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